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Imagine that Into the Wild turns into a Tarantino movie

March 23, 2014 18 comments

The Man Who Walked to the Moon by Howard McCord 1997. French title: L’homme qui marchait sur la lune. Translated by Jacques Mailhos.

I am William Gasper. And if it seems strange that I repeat my introduction so soon, remember that I am as plain a my cooking, have no friends to speak of, and blend, by practice, into any background. I am something like sea-level: a constant always in turmoil, never quite evident from observation. I move even when I sleep, though my name gives me demarcation. I came to Sterns five years ago and persuaded Mary-Gail Henry, who runs the café there, to rent me the packing case which rests about one hundred yards behind the café. I have no knowledge of its original contents, mining equipment probably, but it now contains those personal effects of mine which I do not carry on my back, some score of magazines which I will eventually bequeath to the fire, and other odds and ends which even a scrupulous person may acquire unaware. I do not sleep in the packing case, having eschewed picturesque romanticism some time past, but I sleep beside it. In the worst weather I pitch my tent, but generally, that’s a bother. I wash from a pot, and scurry a quarter-mile or so into the desert each morning to take my bowel movement. I piss after a short walk. All this, of course, occurs only when I am in residence. But as I told you, my vocation is walking, and Stern sees me no more than a dozen days a year.

Long quote, but you have the atmosphere of the book. Or so you think. During the first chapters, you assume you’ll be walking in the wilderness with William Gasper. More accurately, you’ll be exploring, the Moon, Nevada:

The Moon is the mountain of nowhere, ignored by those who live within sight of it, as well as by those, who, in different times, might be fascinated by its isolation and difficulties. It is not a climber’s mountain, nor a hunter’s. There are some fine walls in two canyons, and half a dozen crags nearly worth the effort; there’s some game. But its charms, like certain women’s, are not obvious and reveal themselves only into an occasional misfit.

McCord_MoonSo you’re with him, walking to the Moon and he sounds like a wilderness enthusiast, a sort of walking Thoreau. He leads a frugal life, limits his interactions with the world to a minimum and enjoys his solitude. Slowly, as you spend time in Gasper’s head, you start realising that something is rotten in Gasper’s state of mind. First, he uses his container in Stern to keep guns and rifles; the man is fond of rifles. Then you discover he’s had a traumatic experience during the war in Korea and he never really recovered from it. Later you understand he had a career as a hit man and a sniper for the US army. Reading his ramblings, you get that a lonely boy became a loner and perhaps a loony. He doesn’t have any regrets about his choice of career. He doesn’t have much respect for human life. He likes guns, the hunt and a job well done; he’s a cold-blooded assassin. He’s not motivated by money and he has built his own system of belief, with Cerridwen as a goddess following him and appearing at key moments of his life. He thinks she’s after him, toying with his life. I’m not familiar with Welsh traditions and the Arthurian myth, so it is highly possible that I didn’t grasp everything Gasper said about Cerridwen and Cath Palug. Someone seems to be following Gasper to the Moon and the bucolic hike becomes a man hunt.

I have read The Man Who Walked to the Moon in French and even in translation McCord’s prose is incredibly poetic. It’s a strange mix of poetical descriptions of landscapes and of Gasper’s inner thoughts and violence. It’s as if a folk song ended in punk-rock or if you were watching a scene with a gruesome murder and the soundtrack were The Sound of Music. From what I read, McCord is a hiker too and he’s the same age as his character. He’s also a veteran of the war in Korea. I assume his experience with hiking in different countries nourished his novel. The Man Who Walked to the Moon is hard to sum up, difficult to review without giving away too much and impossible to classify. It’s at the cross-roads of literary fiction, poetry and crime fiction and that’s quite an achievement.

I have to thank Gallmeister for publishing McCord in France. They are a small French publisher  specialised in American literature. They pick books set in the Western states of the country. For example, they have also published Montana 1948 by Larry Watson, The Last Picture Show that I’ll review soon and Indian Country by Dorothy M. Johnson, which I have on the shelf. I like their choice of sober covers and the writers they bring to our attention.

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